The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced an award of nearly $7.5 million in National Emergency Grant funds to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) to provide training and employment services to help out-of-work Eastern Kentuckians affected by the region’s economic struggles retrain and return to the workforce.
Announced by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez on Thursday, May 7, the grant will allow EKCEP to bring critical services like expert career advising, job placement assistance, and training referral and enrollment to additional unemployed Eastern Kentuckians affected by the region's economic downturn and coal-industry decline—similar to EKCEP’s Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) initiative.
But unlike the H.O.M.E. initiative—which could only serve out-of-work coal industry workers and their spouses—the new grant will allow EKCEP to provide services to approximately 685 workers laid off between January and December 2014 in employment sectors outside the coal industry that also experienced declines due to the shrinking coal economy, including everything from retail, heavy equipment sales and service, manufacturing, and others.
Training will focus on equipping workers for jobs in the area's high-growth and high-wage sectors that are aligned with the priorities of the region as it moves toward a digital economy, such as careers in Information Technology (IT). Other high-growth sectors will also be emphasized.
“This announcement is good news for Eastern Kentucky's collective efforts to retrain our workforce and diversify our economy,” EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead said. “But more importantly, it’s good news for the workers who need and deserve our help transitioning into new jobs and careers.”
Whitehead said the new award also allows EKCEP to continue to actively move forward in efforts attached to Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and the Promise Zone, both of which—with the support of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell—have a shared focus on economic development and diversification for Eastern Kentucky.
“Governor Beshear, Congressman Rogers, and Senator McConnell are champions for Eastern Kentuckians, and we at EKCEP certainly appreciate what their steadfast support makes possible,” Whitehead said. “Our task is far from over, but this new funding will allow us to continue to work strategically and shoulder to shoulder with our local, state, and federal partners to accomplish the priorities of SOAR and move our region forward."
The new grant totaling $7,494,017 will fund the following employment and training services:
Basic skills training to provide math and language instruction needed to move on to higher levels of training or new employment. Certification and licensing training to obtain certifications needed to purse a new career. Job-related skills training to provide instruction for a specific skill set. “This grant provides us with the tools needed to continue to better serve workers affected most by the economic struggles we see in our region,” Whitehead added. “U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is familiar with those struggles, and we remain extremely grateful that he and the Department of Labor continue to recognize our efforts and the need to help us connect our dislocated workers with pathways back into the workforce.”
Funded by an $11.3 million National Emergency Grant, EKCEP’s H.O.M.E. initiative has already served nearly 2,300 former miners and their spouses since 2012. Through that assistance, more than 1,100 of those former coal industry workers have obtained new employment.
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services and also administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program, which provides career services to laid-off miners and their spouses. Find out more at www.jobsight.org and www.facebook.com/ekcep.